Defending The Faith From Attacks By Eastern Orthodox Polemicists

The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy:

Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church

By James Likoudis

Protestant attacks against the Catholic faith have inspired writers like Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, and Dave Armstrong to revive the art of apologetics. In recent years, however, Catholics have been placed on the defensive more and more by Eastern Orthodox writers who have resurrected old polemics against the papacy and other Catholic doctrines. Some of these Orthodox polemicists are converts from evangelical Protestantism, but others are former Catholics who have sought to justify their schism from the See of Rome by attacking alleged "innovations" such as papal primacy and infallibility, the Filioque, Purgatory, and the Immaculate Conception.

The challenge posed by the new Orthodox polemics is compounded by the attraction to the Eastern liturgical and spiritual traditions felt by some disaffected Catholics who are tired of liturgical innovations and catechetical ambiguity in their own parishes.

In response to what is a real and growing problem, James Likoudis' new book, "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church" emerges as a much-needed resource. Probably no one is more qualified than James Likoudis to render this service. Likoudis is a former college History professor who converted to Catholicism from Greek Orthodoxy as a young man. He has spent decades researching and defending Catholic doctrines against the unfortunate and unfair attacks leveled by Orthodox polemicists. As he notes in his introduction:

"Despite the growth of the ecumenical movement since Vatican II and real progress in the relations between the Catholic and the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches... the last few years have seen a number of Eastern Orthodox writers... sadly renewing an old and harsh polemic against the papacy and certain Catholic doctrines."

Likoudis' present volume is his third work dealing specifically with Catholic-Orthodox discussions (he has also co-authored a book on the Catholic liturgy and translated Renee Casin's book, "St. Thomas Aquinas, Orthodoxy and Neo-Modernism in the Church"). His first text on the subject, entitled "Ending the Byzantine-Greek Schism", appeared in a revised edition in 1992. His second work came out in 1999 as "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modem Eastern Orthodoxy: Reply to a Former Catholic". It was written in response to a book entitled "Two Paths: Papal Monarchy – Collegial Tradition" (Regina Orthodox Press, 1998) written by a former Catholic turned Orthodox named Michael Whelton.

His third such book, in many respects, is the most comprehensive. It is presented in the form of 51 letters to "Euthymios," a Greek Orthodox correspondent "who may be considered representative of yet others belonging to various Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions." In addition to the 51 letters, there is also a helpful bibliography and two appendices. The first appendix is comprised of excerpts from the "Tractatus de Processione Spiritus Sancti" written around AD 1273 by Matthew of Aquasparta, a disciple of St. Bonaventure who later became a cardinal and general of the Franciscan order. The second appendix is a translation of the 1871 explanation of Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility written by Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Kettler.

The 51 letters to Euthymios cover virtually every single objection that modern Eastern Orthodox level against Catholics. As would be expected, 11 of the letters deal with various aspects of the "Filioque controyersy," the theological dispute between Catholics and Orthodox over the Holy Spirit's procession from the Son as well as from the Father. At least 30 of the letters touch on Orthodox polemics dealing with papal primacy and infallibility in which the correction of historical distortions is a major concern. The remaining letters treat topics such as doctrinal development, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and Palamism (the questionable mystical theology endorsed by many contemporary Orthodox).

In my judgment, James Likoudis proves himself to be a master apologist of the Catholic Faith. With a serene confidence gained by years of research, he calmly shows how most of the objections leveled by the Orthodox against the Catholic Faith are based on historical distortions, theological stereotypes, and suppression of counterevidence. Moreover, he shows great familiarity with Orthodox authors who clearly contradict each other in terms of what Orthodoxy does and does not regard as either dogmatic or heretical.

While the virtues of Likoudis' book are many, I would like to highlight three that are especially noteworthy. The first is his historical demonstration that the Catholic doctrines of the Filioque and universal papal jurisdiction were clearly upheld by fathers of the Church of the first Christian Millennium who are accepted as sound witnesses to the faith by both Catholics and Orthodox of today.

Thus, if contemporary Orthodox polemicists insist that the Filioque and universal papal jurisdiction are "heresies," they are left with the troubling conclusion that the fathers of the Church, both Eastern and Western, taught heresy. Moreover, they are forced to acknowledge that the major Eastern churches of the first Millennium were in full union with Popes who taught these "heresies."

A second strength of Likoudis' work is his demonstration that none of the alleged "heresies" that Orthodox polemicists lay at the feet of the Catholic Church have ever been condemned by an ecumenical council. Thus, the Orthodox are left hurling accusations of heresy without a universal criterion for affirming these doctrines as heretical. With the skill of a disciplined historian, Likoudis shows time and time again that such "heresies" as the Filioque, Purgatory, and the Immaculate Conception have either been held by many Orthodox writers themselves or at least been considered as acceptable theological opinions.

The third strength of Likoudis' study is his clear articulation of Lumen Gentium's teaching that papal primacy and infallibility in no way diminish but rather support episcopal authority and collegiality. In this regard, Likoudis shows himself to be far more in harmony with the mind of the fathers of Vatican II than those dissident Catholic theologians who distort the doctrine of the council in their efforts to undercut the "divine primacy of the Bishop of Rome." Along these lines, Likoudis shows the unfortunate effects of schism from the See of Rome and how the sin of schism fosters hostility to the truth and unity intended by Christ for His Church. In this regard, the author's warnings about the dangers of schism apply as much to dissident "Catholics" of today as they do to the separated Eastern Christians.

I would recommend The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy for all Catholics but especially those involved in teaching, apologetics, and catechesis. James Likoudis has shown himself to be a clear writer, an accomplished historian, and an able theologian.


Dr. Robert Fastiggi is an associate professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit.

"The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church" by James Likoudis. The book's price of $27.95 includes shipping and handling. Copies of this 312 page work and James Likoudis' previous "Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism" can be purchased from Likoudis at P.O. Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865; contact for more information.

Reprinted from "The Wanderer" issue of Aug. 22, 2002
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